Help Wanted

The teacher vacancy rate in MPUSD is higher than this time one year ago. At Ord Elementary School, above, Caroline Clements teaches fourth grade.

Help wanted signs are ubiquitous these days in a number of industries, and schools are no different. Since July, Monterey County has had 135 teacher vacancies, a number Monterey County Office of Education Superintendent Deneen Guss says is high for this time of year. Substitute teachers are needed more than ever, she says, especially in rural areas. “It’s really hard to find subs who are willing to drive out to rural schools,” Guss says.

At Alisal Unified School District, teacher turnover in a typical year is 10 percent. This year it’s double that, says Ricardo Cabrera, AUSD associate superintendent of human resources. Currently they have 69 vacancies, most for substitute teachers (27) and migrant intervention teachers (24). Monterey Peninsula Unified School District has fewer vacancies, 17, but that number is eight times higher than in 2020 when there were only two.

At MPUSD, many substitute teachers are retirees – generally older people who are more vulnerable to Covid-19. Superintendent PK Diffenbaugh says many therefore opted out of in-person instruction. In a recruitment push, MPUSD raised substitutes’ daily rates by $40 to $50, a roughly 25-percent increase (the average rate was $175).

The substitute teacher shortage is also hitting full-time teachers, because they have to step in if a colleague is absent. “You then lose that precious time to grade and to prepare what you need to do for the next class [in middle or high school]. In our elementary schools, that can mean that a teacher gets to school and finds out that they have a few extra students in that class that day because one teacher is out, and there’s no one to cover,” says Nicky Williams, president of Monterey Bay Teachers Association, which represents MPUSD teachers.

Williams says it is harder to attract teachers to MPUSD when neighboring districts (in Pacific Grove, Carmel and Salinas) offer higher salaries. “We need to make significant raises for teachers in our district a priority,” she says.

During the 2020-2021 school year, new teachers with similar qualifications earned $76,190 in Carmel Unified School District, compared to $48,720 in MPUSD.

To attract teachers, districts offer different types of incentives. Since the 2020-21 school year, Salinas City Elementary School District provides a $3,000 signing bonus and an annual stipend of $1,500 for hard-to-fill positions.

Specialty teachers such as bilingual and special education teachers are generally harder positions to fill. “I was not able to find somebody with the qualifications for special ed,” says Catherine Reimer, superintendent at San Ardo Unified School District. “I advertised for four months, online and in the newspaper and with universities, and struggled to be able to get teachers.”

Some districts, such as MPUSD and San Ardo, hire teachers who are still working toward getting their credentials. In Carmel, 100 percent of teachers are fully credentialed.

Teachers in California require a bachelor’s degree, and a two-tier credentialing program that takes three to four years to complete.

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